But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners – Romans 4:5
When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins – Isaiah 53:11
On the way to the barbers today, my wife challenged me to talk about our Faith. So I did. As we got talking, two things emerged, firstly that my barber’s Dad had a strong faith and was not scared of death. But also, that he couldn’t ever bring himself to accept the forgiveness that is on offer. Easter is the appropriate time to understand God’s forgiveness, so if you’re reading this, these next 3 weeks are for you. There has never been a more important message.
The world views God by a simple creed, one we encounter all the time out on the streets. It goes like this, God punishes bad people, but rewards good people. That is humanity’s job description for God in Heaven. Some wrap it up in Karma, most think they fall on the side of the good, few have ever stopped to think about it.
At this time of year especially, it is worth us considering the truth. You see, the Bible clearly disagrees with this view, because it tells us that ‘God justifies the wicked.’ It is extraordinary. God has thrown a curve ball at the entire moral order of his universe, and few are aware of it or what it means. At the centre of it, is the wonderful person of Jesus Christ. In Isaiah 42, we read of Jesus the servant before God. God presents us with an unexpected Messiah, the suffering servant, the suffering substitute.
The Easter story starts with the notion of substitute, Jesus stands before God on behalf of sinful people (Incredibly, the substitution cuts both ways; not only does Jesus get what we deserve, but we also share the inheritance that belongs to the Son). Consider the couplets in the first few verses of Isaiah 53 that highlight ‘him for us’:
- 4, surely he took our infirmities
- 5, he was pierced, our transgressions
- 5, he was crushed for our iniquities
- 5, his punishment that bought us freedom
- 5, by his wounds we are healed
- 6, the Lord laid on him
- 12, he bore the sin of many
Have you ever wondered who Jesus died for? Sinners, the world, for you and me? They all contain truth, but we are not the primary reason. In the first instance, Jesus died for his Father, God. ‘Considered him smitten by God’ (4) ‘the Lord laid on him, it was the Lord’s will’ (10) ‘the Lord makes his life a guilt offering.’
God was the one who required the cross as a substitute for sin.
Face it, we would prefer something much more straightforward, maybe along these lines; “as long as you’re really sorry and try not to do it again, you will be forgiven.” But this is never enough for God, and sin is a far greater problem for God than it is for us. His righteousness is violated, his wrath has been stirred.
If it was just a case of repentance, we would a) get counselling, b) repent, c) straighten up our lives as best we could! But this doesn’t begin to deal with our problem. The cross was necessary.
What lies behind the cross, as much as the love of God, which is central to the whole theme, is the wrath of God. The brutality of the cross, is the expression of God’s anger. There is a very important word which has dropped out from Biblical use, the word ‘propitiation’. Propitiation, means ‘to turn away wrath by satisfying its demands’. God put Jesus forward as the propitiation for the entire human race.
The language of the Bible in Isaiah is that God himself strikes out at his own Son v4. Jesus was not just stricken by evil men, or afflicted by evil men, but behind that, far worse, he was stricken, smitten by God. “It was the Lords will to crush him.” (10). God vented his spleen for our mess, on his Son.
We think in our modernist, egalitarian culture that the cross is too brutal, that somehow it could have been avoided. If we think of sin at all, it is only as our problem that messes us up and gets us into trouble; but if we don’t realise that we first offend God, then our repentance will be trite and sentimental, our tears little more than tears of self pity.
In presenting the Gospel to the world, we have an opportunity to present the full story of why Jesus is so central to God’s plan and our future. We must understand, that Jesus stands in place of us, for the wrong we have done, the disorder that we created. This is what paves the way for forgiveness.
There is of course, more of the story to come. But as we often hear, it is always darkest before dawn.
- Further thought for this week: 1 John 2:2, 1 John 4:10